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Negotiations and 'Lame Duck' Legislative Bodies

December 18, 2012

2012 Pennsylvania Bar Institute Labor Law Conference - Pennsylvania Public Sector Update

By Alaine S. Williams

In a recent decision, the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB) refused to enforce an addendum to a collective bargaining agreement that was adopted by a “lame duck” legislative body. IAM Local 243 v Stewartstown Borough. 44 PPER 9 (2012). In this case, the parties had previously negotiated and ratified a collective bargaining agreement for an Act 111 unit to take effect January 1, 2012. After the election for members of Borough Council, and in the hiatus period prior to newly elected members of Council being sworn into office, the parties agreed to an addendum to the collective bargaining agreement. The addendum prohibited the Borough from “disbanding, consolidating, merging or regionalizing the police department for the duration of the successor collective bargaining agreement.” The newly elected Borough Council rescinded the addendum immediately upon taking office. The Union filed an unfair labor practice charge alleging violations of Section 6(1) (e) and (a) of the PLRA. The PLRB refused to issue a complaint and the Union subsequently filed exceptions.

In its unanimous decision, the Board reviewed prior “lame duck” legislative body decisions under both Act 111 and Act 195. It specifically quoted from a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision involving the Chester Housing Authority noting that agreements approved by lame duck governing bodies concerning governmental functions are not binding or enforceable.

 

The obvious purpose of the rule is to permit a newly appointed governmental body to function freely on behalf of the public and in response to the governmental power or body politic by which it was appointed or elected, unhampered by the policies of the predecessors who have since been replaced by the appointing or electing power. To permit the outgoing body to “hamstring” its successors by imposing upon them a policy-implementing and, to some extent, policy-making machinery, which is not attuned to the new body or its policies, would be to most effectively circumvent the rule.

Mitchell v. Chester Housing Authority, 389 Pa. 314, 132 A.2d 873 (1957).

Previously, Pennsylvania Courts had invalidated individual employment contracts approved by “lame duck” legislative bodies. Falls Township v. McManamon, 537 A.2d 946 (Pa Cmwlth 1988); Borough of Pitcairn v. Westwood, 848 A.2d 158 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2004). See also FOP Lodge 2 v. Hickey, 499 Pa. 194; 452 A.2d 1005 (1982) and Teamsters Local 205 v. Borough of Plum, 33 PPER 33077 (Proposed Decision Order 2002) in which a Hearing Examiner concluded that an employer did not violate its duty to bargain when it took prompt action to rescind the collective bargaining agreement approved by a “lame duck” Borough Council.

In reaching its decision, the Board distinguished a previous case involving Chichester School District on the grounds that the contracts in question were approved before the lame duck status occurred. Chichester School District v. Chichester Education Association, 750 A.2d 400, appeal denied 795 A.2d 980 (2000). See also AFSCME v. Summit Township, 41 PPER 29 (2010); 40 PPER 6 (Proposed Decision and Order 2009) in which the Labor Board refused to invalidate a collective bargaining agreement negotiated prior to an election where the newly elected Township supervisors asserted that formal ratification of the agreement by the legislative body occurred after the election.  

When negotiations occur in an election year make sure your contract is agreed to and ratified by the legislative body prior to election. Of course, if the timelines for bargaining under Acts 195 and 111 are followed, this issue can be easily avoided.

 

   
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